Asheville Beercation

A few weekends ago, Ben and I FINALLY visited Asheville for the first time since moving to North Carolina 6 months ago!

But let’s step back a minute before I get to those breweries…

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal for myself to visit 52 breweries within the year. That was a goal to visit one brewery a week, if you broke it down. Well… I underestimated myself… I hit the 52 mark on July 5th, almost right at the half year mark!

Each brewery I visited deserves to be highlighted, and I’ll get to those all soon. (ish.)

Having reached my goal so early, I of course wanted to set a new goal. I didn’t think doubling the goal was a realistic option. Choosing 100 as my goal sounded like a nice, even number, but I didn’t think that could be obtained either. Ninety sounded better to me, though I didn’t know how I would make it happen with work becoming busy, and weekends becoming sparse for both Ben and myself.

Ninety it was.

So guess where the Asheville trip starts. And guess where it ends. It starts at 90. I hit 100. And I doubled my original goal for the year by hitting 104 at the end of the trip!

If you’re planning any sort of a beercation, it’s beginning to look like my blog will have a fairly substantial listing of reviews! Obviously, I’m a little fish in a big ol’ sea of beer and breweries, where new breweries pop up all the time. Money gets me to these places, and my job makes me money. So unless I win the lottery, I won’t be retiring early to visit every brewery in the country quite yet.

Now, let’s talk Asheville!

Talking about beer is one of my favorite things (duh), only to be trumped by other beer activities, like actually drinking it. So it stands to reason that there are others out there who share my passion and want to talk about it, too. I reached out to a bottle share group I’ve become a part of on Facebook, and I’d like to thank them all for their recommendations. Special thanks to Kale, who really helped me out. Also, a special thanks to Jerry, an Untappd friend who took the time to email me his notes on his last trip there with his girlfriend.

Beer friends are the best friends!

Asheville has the most breweries per capita of any place in the United States. If you check out almost any list of great beer destinations in the U.S., Asheville’s on it.

Ben and I left work a little early on Friday to beat the traffic. (Okay, who am I kidding…? We left early “because beer”. The answer to half of what we do.)

First stop. #90 – Fonta Flora – (Morganton, NC) This was recommended as a stop on the way, and it was well worth it. It has a rustic, earthy, and cozy feel to it. There’s a decent-sized bar, and tables and chairs to sit at, too. We opted for the bar. They had a really nice variety of some fun beers. It’s always nice to walk into a brewery and see something aside from your standard IPA, Porter, Amber and Stout. One look at their website will tell you all you need to know, boasting things like a local carrot IPA. Any brewery that goes the extra mile and takes extra effort to use locally sourced ingredients to support their community deserves some extra credit. This is just beer you need to try. I had the Echoview Estate Ale, which was a fantastic Belgian Tripel (4 stars), and the Bloody Butcher Witbier (3.5 stars). I wish we could have stayed longer, but onto Asheville!

We left our downtown hotel to hit the night’s breweries by foot. This is EASILY attainable, as there are plenty of breweries within walking distance. I downloaded the Asheville Breweries app (Thanks, Jerry!), and it gave us a good idea of what all was nearby.

#91 – Wicked Weed – I knew this would be a good stop. There’s a big restaurant on the main level, and the brewery and tap room are in the basement. We were hungry travelers at this point, and opted for the restaurant. (The tap room had a cooler vibe with its giant glass windows peering into the brewhouse, and its dim lights and cellar-ey type feel. Next time, that’s where we’ll start.)

The food menu was small, but it all looked great. It was jam-packed in there, so we didn’t want to order big dishes and wait longer, despite that they still seemed to be getting food out quickly. I had a side of home fries that was made with traditional potatoes and sweet potatoes, and had huge chunks of delicious bacon. It really hit the spot.

I had a pumpkin beer called Pumpk-Anne that was tasty before we left for the next spot.

Any time I trade beers with other beer geeks, Wicked Weed seems to be the most coveted NC beer requested. They’re known for their hop-forward, non-apologetic, big flavors. They boast big sours and take risks, and they pay off.

Fun Fact: The name “Wicked Weed” comes from a quote from King Henry VIII where he called hops a “wicked and pernicious weed”, saying that hops were destined to ruin beer. Hops weren’t an original ingredient in beer, and didn’t really start to become prevalent for use in beer until around 1500.

Beer as we know it today (much to King Henry VIII’s dismay) must include these 4 ingredients: water, barley, yeast and hops. The old (and original) style of beer made without hops is called Gruit. It usually contained bog myrtle (or sweet gale), horehound, heather flowers, and other herbs and spices.

Fraoch Heather Ale from Williams Brothers Brewing in Scotland is one of the best examples of this style. Other breweries like Dogfish Head have brewed similar styles and other ancient ales, but opted to add a small amount of hops.

A local brewery here, D9, also does an ancient ale, keeping it on track with the absence of hops, but souring the beer.

I could go on further, but let’s get back on the Asheville track!

#92 – Burial – This was the one that came most recommended. It’s definitely a hole in the wall. It’s a decent-sized, long, rectangular room with a small bar on one end, some sparse tables and seating in the middle, and the brewhouse on the other end. There was a fooseball table thrown in the mix there, too. Somehow, there was a bit of hipster ambience. Maybe it was the small sphere lights strung in sporadic arches coming down from the ceiling by the brewhouse. Or maybe it was just the hipsters…

I had the Farmhouse Drunken Noodles. (A beer. Although the foodie in me wants to challenge a chef to create a dish with that name.) It was amazingly complex, but somehow simple at the same time. Very ginger. Lemongrass aroma. Lime finish. It was the first beer I really cared to write notes on, so it stood out to me in a good way. (4 stars).

Also, the tap handles here were shaped like knives. Pretty fitting for a brewery named Burial.

We didn’t stay long, but again, I’d like to go back and try more.

#93 – Twin Leaf – This place was warm and inviting. Maybe it was just the little, adorable Maltipoo happily tiptoeing around on the bar in its sweater vest to greet each new guest. (ServSafe certified and don’t even care.) That little dog could have lapped up my beer and I wouldn’t have had a problem with it! (Sober Janee may have thought differently, but I digress!)

It was a guest’s dog, so don’t plan on visiting that brewery dog there when you stop by. But it’s definitely a pet-friendly spot.

The bar was long and spacious, and there were tables as well, overlooking the brewhouse. I had the Dark Matter Oatmeal Stout (3.5 stars) and Wee Nipper English Mild (3.5 stars).

#94 – Funkatorium – The Funkatorium is a brand new facility that houses Wicked Weed’s barrel program. Sour beers have a special place in my heart. Actually, in my stomach. But that’s not the point.

It had a finished and refined feel to it. The attention to detail from their beers bleeds through to the taproom as well. It was dimly lit. A chalkboard wall with a tap list behind the bar fantastically mimicked the bottom of a wooden barrel.

The barrel house attached to the tap room was even more impressive. It just seemed to go on and on. It really was one of the most impressive barrel rooms I’ve ever seen.

This was tied for my favorite in Asheville. We sat at the bar. I scanned the beer menu and knew exactly what I wanted to drink first. It takes a very intriguing pumpkin beer to capture my attention at the end of the pumpkin beer drinking season. And this one did it – Pompoen Pumpkin Sour, aged in rum barrels. (4 stars).

Pernicious Sour Blonde was another good one.

This was the last stop for the night, so we bought 4 bottles for the short trek back to the hotel!

#95 – Sierra Nevada – (Fletcher, NC) On Saturday morning, we had a brewery tour scheduled for Sierra Nevada’s brand new facility! They call this location the Mills River brewery.

The entire facility is BREATHTAKING. Copper is everywhere. Everything is refined and somehow simply ornate. It’s the most beautiful brewery and brewhouse I’ve seen. I was constantly in awe. It’s huge!

The brewery tour was nice. They’re big on sustainability at Sierra Nevada. They consciously hand-picked every element down to the parking lot pavers and large outdoor water collection containers that resemble foeders for things like recycling water.

At the end of the 90 minute tour, we were taken to the beautiful tap room to try 6 of their beers. They’ve been sharing their beers with people out of the Chico brewery for many years, so they’ve had lots of practice and experience getting things done right. Each beer was presented in the appropriate glassware for the style, and special care was taken to pour the final beer, Narwhal Imperial Stout, early on in the tasting to allow the beer to warm to the appropriate serving temperature before it was time to drink it.

Narwhal has long been a favorite of mine. Ben and I buy a 4-pack every year. We occasionally drink one, but most of them are being saved for a vertical tasting whenever we feel like cracking some open with friends. The brewery sells the barrel aged variant, which we’ve never been able to find until now. We grabbed a few bottles of that, along with a few other more elusive bottles, at the gift store before heading to the next stop.

#96 – Oyster House – This really came off as a restaurant that just happened to house a small brewery as an afterthought. The whole place is really small and just doesn’t strike you as a place that has the passion for beer that some of these others do.

We grabbed a small snack and both had the Moonstone Oyster Stout. (3.5 stars).

#97 – Wedge – This was an interesting place. It’s a weird mélange of stuff that makes this one something different.

Ben and me at Wedge! One of few photos he cooperated for! :)
Ben and me at Wedge! One of few photos he cooperated for! 🙂

It sits right on the side of some railroad tracks. There’s an outdoor space between the tracks and the brewery where most people congregate. It almost had a tailgate-like atmosphere, with people playing cornhole out there, and a group of others who had their collapsible tailgating chairs and a very small table set up. There’s a long, narrow patio with clear vinyl enclosures to keep it warmer there when the weather cools down. You could tell by the crowd of people, and one older man sitting outside reading a beer book, that this is a place with something special.

We walked into the building, ordered some beers, and walked out onto the patio with a bowl of free peanuts to break down the beers.

These were the best and most solid beers of the trip! It was my other favorite brewery. We had the Belgian Abbey Ale and the Community Porter, both of which I rated an excellent 4.5 stars. This would undoubtedly be a regular hang out spot for me if I lived closer.

(It’s noteworthy that the future second brewery for New Belgium will be nearby and right across the railroad tracks.)

We ditched the car back at the hotel to finish our tour walking for the rest of the day/night.

Next stop? The Local Taco. (Not a brewery! A girl needs to eat occasionally, too!) We needed a good base for the rest of the day. A little snack at Oyster House and the peanuts from Wedge weren’t going to be enough to fuel us much further.

We were craving some tacos, and we found the right place. I truly don’t even remember exactly what we ate here, but I know I’d go back in a heartbeat! They had some beers, but nothing I hadn’t had before. Something there just screamed “margarita”.

I had one that the bartender recommended with hibiscus flower and elderflower liqueur and it was outstanding. I’d go back there just for this drink! It made for a beautiful Instagram shot.

#98 – Lexington Ave. – This reminded me more of a commercial place. It’s big inside, and has a big island bar near the entry with more tables and booths everywhere else. It had a restaurant feel. The food looked good, but those tacos were sitting happily in our tummies still.

We shared a flight of 6 beers. I only rated one, and I rated it 3 stars…

Moving on!

#99 – One World – This one reminds me of a speakeasy. You walk down a really dark alley to get there. It’s a little unnerving. A man at the top of a stairway directs you down the stairs. The lighting doesn’t improve much when you actually get into the downstairs brewery, but I suppose this all fits for the speakeasy style.

The L-shaped bar was small, so we sat at a little table. I had the Whale of a Tale Extra Pale Ale.

I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it.

Then, we took off to hit up a well-renowned beer bar.

Thirsty Monk (& Top of The Monk) – Thirsty Monk is considered by many to be one of the best beer bars in America. We set off for the Downtown Belgian beer bar location, knowing that the bar had several levels and that the Belgian beers were not on the main level. We walked to where we thought the entrance was and were greeted by a doorman.

In the state of NC, if you opt to sell mixed drinks as a bar, there’s a weird law that it has to be a “members only” club. We first ran into this situation at a place called the Rusted Bucket in our new hometown of Burlington. It deterred us until we found out that most places charge a buck to become a member, you sign in, and that’s that!

So we followed the motions, signed the book, and walked through a door and up a set of stairs. We had a seat at the bar, and realized that we weren’t at the beer bar! We had stumbled into the Top of The Monk, which is coincidentally hailed as one of the best craft cocktail bars in the country.

I was a little bummed we had accidentally ended up here at first, taking our time away from precious beer, but one look at the cocktail menu changed my mind, and one sip of my drink told me we had made an awesome mistake. It’s the best cocktail bar I’ve ever set foot in, and probably the best crafted cocktail I’ve ever consumed.

I had the Pumpkin Pisco Sour. It contained white grape brandy, fall spices, fresh lemon, pumpkin reduction, pie spiced syrup, egg white, Madagascar vanilla, and Angostura bitters. Phenomenal.

After that, we walked downstairs and into the door of the Thirsty Monk, where we really had intended to go. The Belgian beer bar was downstairs. We made our way down there, enjoyed a few great beers, and left for the next brewery.

They had a great selection, and we’d have loved to have spent a lot more time there.

#100 – Hi-Wire – We had some good stuff here. The Ringmaster’s Reserve Series Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout was really well done. (4 stars). I was lucky enough to score a few of the last bottles (22 ouncers) of this limited release beer. I’m going to age some, and maybe use a bottle for a beer trade.

Ben also picked up a 6-pack of the special release Strongman Coffee Milk Stout. It’s packaged really well in an attractive and sturdy 6-pack carrier. The marketer in me gives them credit for making this stand out well as a limited release. It’s a little hard to accomplish that with 12 ounce bottles and to get the point across that it’s something special. Well done.

This is a place I’d expect to visit again and find some gems at.

#101 – Asheville Brewing – Ninja Bread Man Porter, which is a gingerbread variant of their Ninja Porter was awesome! (4 stars). The building was packed at the time we rolled in, and we had to wait for seats at the bar to open up. The building is big, and houses lots of tables and a restaurant. I was told that their pizza is great, but with the crowd, we opted to just grab a slice at a less popular and less crowded place across the street from our hotel.

We induced ourselves with a good food coma, and went to bed to recharge our batteries for the next morning.

On Sunday morning, we hit up our new favorite restaurant in Asheville breakfast! For the second morning in a row. You KNOW it’s some good stuff when a foodie visits a place like Asheville and opts to go for round 2 and re-visit a restaurant. Biscuithead. Just hearing the name after having eaten there makes my stomach growl, begging to be filled with more biscuits!

Southerners love their biscuits. I married a southerner and moved down south with him. You can imagine the number of biscuits I eat just by being married to the guy. I like to think that I know a good biscuit when I see one. I’ve been pretty well-trained over the years.

These biscuits are enormous. And there are FLIGHTS OF GRAVY. Flights of gravy! And for all you condiment lovers… there’s a GLORIOUS toppings bar with flavored butters and jellies for those biscuits. Ben often calls me the condiment queen. Clearly, I’m in Heaven.

I had the fried green tomato biscuit which was topped with brie and poached eggs. I tried out a bacon-pepper jelly and a serrano butter (if my memory serves me right) from the condiment bar. So good! And I had a side of bacon. This shit was glorious…

So a million calories (well worth it!) later, we ventured to our first brewery of the day.

#102 – Highland – This place is huge. It’s very warehouse-esque. There are long tables everywhere inside and a long bar up against the wall. Several shipping containers complete with windows sit inside the building, and contain what I imagine are some offices for the staff.

We grabbed some drinks from the bar right as they opened, and sat down at the end of a long table to enjoy. I had the 20th Anniversary Scotch Ale. (3.5 stars).

We heard the phone ring behind the bar and overheard the bartender saying, “No. We’re all out of it.” The phone rang again, and you could tell he was answering the same question. The phone kept ringing and customers kept coming in asking if there was any Cold Mountain left.

You know a beer is kind of a big deal when it has a following like this. It was apparently released a day or two earlier. There wasn’t any left at the brewery, but the bartender had been letting people know that it was locally distributed and that they could hope to find some at some nearby bottle shops.

We scored at Total Wine on our way home later that day. I’ve since tried it, and can see what all the hype was about. This was a really well done winter warmer. I’m usually just not a big fan of most winter warmers, but I would drink this one often.

#103 – Pisgah – (Black Mountain, NC) This was my favorite non-Asheville brewery of the trip. I was told about the bottle release of Chocolatized Imperial Stout and hoped to get there in time to buy some. The brewery gods of limited release beers apparently loved me and smiled down upon my beer cellar on this whole trip. There were a few bottles left! I think I got 4 of them. I had it on tap at the bar, too. (4.5 stars). If I had a piece of vanilla bean cheesecake with it, I could have died happy right then and there.

The Tripel and the Porter were also great choices.

It’s not a really big taproom. But they have a stage in the corner where they have concerts pretty often. Old Crow Medicine Show was apparently just there.

#104 – Lookout – (Black Mountain, NC) Number 104! Goal for the year is officially doubled! It’s a small place with a tiny bar. They seem to do a lot of small batch beers. My favorite was the Beer-BQ Smoked Ale at 3.5 stars.

And that does it for our first trip to Asheville! We have a few breweries we missed on this trip that we’ll have to hit when we go back. And I know we’ll be hitting some repeats from this list. And Biscuithead…


Blog Fuel: Karl Strauss Red Trolley. This is the beer that made me fall in love with Karl Strauss. I tried it for the first time at the Carlsbad brewery when I was in Cali visiting Ben before he went to Afghanistan. It’s literally the reason we flew out to the west coast and got married at their brewery!

Melange 3. An excellent bottled blend of beers from The Bruery. They mix 3 different bourbon barrel aged strong ales to make it! One just happens to be an all-time favorite, Black Tuesday. Another is White Oak Sap, a fantastic wheat wine. And the other is their Anniversary Series beer. It’s super-boozy, but always a nice treat.

Off Color Brewing Troublesome Gose. It’s always a great idea to keep something approachable in the fridge. This one has a great, but subdued enough, malt backbone that allowed me to pair it with a sriracha-marinated grilled chicken salad with lime vinaigrette.

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